The recent Equifax data breach, which lasted from mid-May through the end of July 2017, impacted 143 million American consumers. If you have a credit report, there’s a good chance your information was compromised. As a result, many students and parents may be hesitant to put their sensitive personal information on the FAFSA or loan applications. However, there are steps that they can take to feel more secure when applying for aid and loans.
How to Determine Who Has Been Affected:
Visit Equifax’s website www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to determine if sensitive information has been compromised by the data breach. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter the last name and the last six digits of the Social Security Number. Remember that it is important to be on a secure computer and encrypted network connection when submitting sensitive information online.
Even if information was not compromised in the breach, Equifax is offering a year of free credit monitoring. Consumers have until January 31st, 2018 to enroll.
Regularly Check Credit Reports:
Credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion may be checked online for free at annualcreditreport.com. Many banks and lenders also offer free access to credit reports to customers with an existing account. Recent activity or accounts that are not recognized are telltale signs that identity has been stolen.
Place a Credit Freeze:
A credit freeze restricts access to credit reports so that identity thieves cannot easily open a new account with stolen information. To initiate a credit freeze, contact each of the nationwide credit reporting companies:
A credit freeze may cost between $5-$10. After the credit freeze request has been placed, each credit reporting company will send a confirmation letter with a unique PIN or password. Keeping track of the PIN/password is extremely important- this information will be needed when one decides to temporarily or permanently lift the freeze. A freeze may be temporarily lifted when applying for a PLUS or private student loan.
Note that a freeze will take up to three business days to be lifted so remind students be mindful of deadlines and plan accordingly.
Place a Fraud Alert:
A fraud alert is different than a credit freeze because creditors will still have access to a credit report. However, a fraud alert makes creditors aware that one may have been a victim of identity theft and that they need to take steps to verify an identity before accessing information.
A fraud alert may make parents and students feel more secure about the loan application process because a fraud alert makes it difficult for an identity thief to open a new account. However, an identity thief could still have access to existing accounts. Whether or not one places a credit freeze or fraud alert on their files, it is crucial to regularly check existing accounts for fraudulent activity.
Report Identity Theft Immediately:
As soon as evidence is found that an identity has been stolen it is crucial to immediately report the fraudulent activity and come up with a recovery plan. Identitytheft.gov is an excellent resource for identity theft victims.
The Equifax breach, while alarming, should have little impact on students applying for federal aid. Since the breach includes all of the information required to create an FSA ID, it is possible for an identity thief to create a fraudulent FSA ID. If a parent or student notices that their information has been linked to an FSA ID but they have no recollection of creating one, they must contact the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID.
If parents and students take all of the actions outlined to keep their information safe, applying for aid and loans should be free from the stress of identity theft.